I first went to Italy five years ago with my high school Latin class. I don’t remember much of it anymore, but I do remember climbing all 463 steps to the top of Florence’s Duomo and being awestruck by the beauty of the Tuscan city below me. I had no way of knowing at the time that I was looking at the place I would call home only four years later, and I certainly didn’t know how much that trip would impact the next few years of my life.
Much to my parents’ dismay, I returned home from my ten day trip with a new goal for my upcoming college search: finding a school with the opportunity to spend a semester in Italy. I had many reasons for eventually choosing Smith, but one of the biggest selling points was the full-year program in Florence. My drive to return to Italy pushed me to study the language for the first two years of my college career. The next thing I knew, I was back at the International Terminal of the Boston airport, once again headed for Italy. However, the circumstances couldn’t have been more different. The first time, I was with some of my closest friends and many of our classmates, setting off excitedly for the best April vacation we’d ever had. The second time, I was saying a tearful goodbye to my parents, not knowing when I’d see them again, one solo plane ride away from the adventure of a lifetime.
I don’t think it truly sunk in how far I had come in four years until I was about six months into my time abroad. One of my best friends from Smith was visiting me, and we decided to head to the top of the Duomo, a place I hadn’t visited since high school. Back then, I was too starry-eyed to take in any information about the city’s rich history. This time, I was serving as my friend’s tour guide, telling her everything I could remember about the Duomo itself and everything we were seeing in the city below us. Although the view was about the same as it had been four years prior, I was seeing it through completely different eyes. In this particular photo, I had originally only seen the beautiful red roofs that adorn the city’s skyline. However, after six months of living in Florence, I was now seeing the streets I’d walked every day for six months, my bus stop, and, if I squinted, my house. I couldn’t help but look back on the first time that I stood on that observation deck as a tourist. I was sixteen years old, still dealing with braces, low self-esteem, and all of the friendship drama that comes with high school. Only four years had passed, but it felt like a lifetime. All of my experiences, both at Smith and in Florence, had made me bolder, wiser, and more confident than the teenager who had walked those 463 steps all those years ago. As I continued to watch the sunset with my friend, gazing upon the city that I’d begun to call home, I knew that all of the choices I had made and the time I had spent in the Florence program had been worth it.
Kaity O’Neil is a senior from Norwell, MA, majoring in Psychology and minoring in Education and Child Study. She took part in Smith’s JYA Florence program for the 2016-2017 Academic Year.